We study the hippocampus, both because of an interest in how the properties of its neurons allow the circuit to form and store memories, and because of advantages conferred by its cellular organization. Most of the projects in the lab involve electrophysiological recording in brain slices, neuroanatomical analysis, computational modeling, or a combination of these approaches.
The way the hippocampus processes information and encodes memories in the form of "cell assemblies" is likely determined in part by how its circuits are wired up during development. In this issue, Xu et al. now provide new insight into how neurons arising from a single common precursor migrate to their final destination and form functionally synchronous ensembles.
Abstract We recently described a new form of neural integration and firing in a subset of interneurons, in which evoking hundreds of action potentials over tens of seconds to minutes produces a sudden barrage of action potentials lasting about a minute beyond the inciting stimulation. During this persistent firing, action potentials are generated in the distal axon and propagate retrogradely to the soma. To distinguish this from other forms of persistent firing, we refer to it here as 'retroaxonal barrage firing', or 'barrage firing' for short. Its induction is blocked by chemical inhibitors of gap junctions and curiously, stimulation of one interneuron in some cases triggers barrage firing in a nearby, unstimulated interneuron. Beyond these clues, the mechanisms of barrage firing are unknown. Here we report new results related to these mechanisms. Induction of barrage firing was blocked by lowering extracellular calcium, as long as normal action potential threshold was maintained, and it was inhibited by blocking L-type voltage-gated calcium channels. Despite its calcium dependence, barrage firing was not prevented by inhibiting chemical synaptic transmission. Furthermore, loading the stimulated/recorded interneuron with BAPTA did not block barrage firing, suggesting that the required calcium entry occurs in other cells. Finally, barrage firing was normal in mice with deletion of the primary gene for neuronal gap junctions (connexin36), suggesting that non-neuronal gap junctions may be involved. Together, these findings suggest that barrage firing is probably triggered by a multicellular mechanism involving calcium signalling and gap junctions, but operating independently of chemical synaptic transmission.
Prior Publications (11)
Synergistic actions of metabotropic acetylcholine and glutamate receptors on the excitability of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons.The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2012
J. Park, and N. Spruston The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32:6081-91 (2012)
A variety of neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating neural activity during different behavioral states. Unique responses to combinations of neurotransmitters provide a powerful mechanism by which neural networks could be differentially activated during a broad range of behaviors. Here, we show, using whole-cell recordings in rat hippocampal slices, that group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) synergistically increase the excitability of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons by converting the post-burst afterhyperpolarization to an afterdepolarization via a rapidly reversible upregulation of Ca(v)2.3 R-type calcium channels. Coactivation of mAChRs and mGluRs also induced a long-lasting enhancement of the responses mediated by each receptor type. These results suggest that cooperative signaling via mAChRs and group I mGluRs could provide a mechanism by which cognitive processes may be modulated by conjoint activation of two separate neurotransmitter systems.
Relating the function of neuronal cell types to information processing and behavior is a central goal of neuroscience. In the hippocampus, pyramidal cells in CA1 and the subiculum process sensory and motor cues to form a cognitive map encoding spatial, contextual, and emotional information, which they transmit throughout the brain. Do these cells constitute a single class or are there multiple cell types with specialized functions? Using unbiased cluster analysis, we show that there are two morphologically and electrophysiologically distinct principal cell types that carry hippocampal output. We show further that these two cell types are inversely modulated by the synergistic action of glutamate and acetylcholine acting on metabotropic receptors that are central to hippocampal function. Combined with prior connectivity studies, our results support a model of hippocampal processing in which the two pyramidal cell types are predominantly segregated into two parallel pathways that process distinct modalities of information.
Pyramidal neurons in the subiculum project to a variety of cortical and subcortical areas in the brain to convey information processed in the hippocampus. Previous studies have shown that two groups of subicular pyramidal neurons--regular-spiking and bursting neurons--are distributed in an organized fashion along the proximal-distal axis, with more regular-spiking neurons close to CA1 (proximal) and more bursting neurons close to presubiculum (distal). Anatomically, neurons projecting to some targets are located more proximally along this axis, while others are located more distally. However, the relationship between the firing properties and the targets of subicular pyramidal neurons is not known. To study this relationship, we used in vivo injections of retrogradely transported fluorescent beads into each of nine different regions and conducted whole-cell current-clamp recordings from the bead-containing subicular neurons in acute brain slices. We found that subicular projections to each area were composed of a mixture of regular-spiking and bursting neurons. Neurons projecting to amygdala, lateral entorhinal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and medial/ventral orbitofrontal cortex were located primarily in the proximal subiculum and consisted mostly of regular-spiking neurons (∼80%). By contrast, neurons projecting to medial EC, presubiculum, retrosplenial cortex, and ventromedial hypothalamus were located primarily in the distal subiculum and consisted mostly of bursting neurons (∼80%). Neurons projecting to a thalamic nucleus were located in the middle portion of subiculum, and their probability of bursting was close to 50%. Thus, the fraction of bursting neurons projecting to each target region was consistent with the known distribution of regular-spiking and bursting neurons along the proximal-distal axis of the subiculum. Variation in the distribution of regular-spiking and bursting neurons suggests that different types of information are conveyed from the subiculum to its various targets.
Dendritic spines are the nearly ubiquitous site of excitatory synaptic input onto neurons and as such are critically positioned to influence diverse aspects of neuronal signalling. Decades of theoretical studies have proposed that spines may function as highly effective and modifiable chemical and electrical compartments that regulate synaptic efficacy, integration and plasticity. Experimental studies have confirmed activity-dependent structural dynamics and biochemical compartmentalization by spines. However, there is a longstanding debate over the influence of spines on the electrical aspects of synaptic transmission and dendritic operation. Here we measure the amplitude ratio of spine head to parent dendrite voltage across a range of dendritic compartments and calculate the associated spine neck resistance (R(neck)) for spines at apical trunk dendrites in rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. We find that R(neck) is large enough (~500 MΩ) to amplify substantially the spine head depolarization associated with a unitary synaptic input by ~1.5- to ~45-fold, depending on parent dendritic impedance. A morphologically realistic compartmental model capable of reproducing the observed spatial profile of the amplitude ratio indicates that spines provide a consistently high-impedance input structure throughout the dendritic arborization. Finally, we demonstrate that the amplification produced by spines encourages electrical interaction among coactive inputs through an R(neck)-dependent increase in spine head voltage-gated conductance activation. We conclude that the electrical properties of spines promote nonlinear dendritic processing and associated forms of plasticity and storage, thus fundamentally enhancing the computational capabilities of neurons.
The conventional view of neurons is that synaptic inputs are integrated on a timescale of milliseconds to seconds in the dendrites, with action potential initiation occurring in the axon initial segment. We found a much slower form of integration that leads to action potential initiation in the distal axon, well beyond the initial segment. In a subset of rodent hippocampal and neocortical interneurons, hundreds of spikes, evoked over minutes, resulted in persistent firing that lasted for a similar duration. Although axonal action potential firing was required to trigger persistent firing, somatic depolarization was not. In paired recordings, persistent firing was not restricted to the stimulated neuron; it could also be produced in the unstimulated cell. Thus, these interneurons can slowly integrate spiking, share the output across a coupled network of axons and respond with persistent firing even in the absence of input to the soma or dendrites.
According to spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP), the timing of the Na(+) spike relative to the EPSP determines whether LTP or LTD will occur. Here, we review our reservations about STDP. Most investigations of this process have been done under conditions in which the spike is evoked by postsynaptic current injection. Under more realistic conditions, in which the spike is evoked by the EPSP, the results do not generally support STDP. For instance, low-frequency stimulation of a group of synapses can cause LTD, not the LTP predicted by the pre-before-post sequence in STDP; this is true regardless of whether or not the EPSP is large enough to produce a Na(+) spike. With stronger or more frequent stimulation, LTP can be induced by the same pre-before-post timing, but in this case block of Na(+) spikes does not necessarily prevent LTP induction. Thus, Na(+) spikes may facilitate LTP and/or LTD under some conditions, but they are not necessary, a finding consistent with their small size relative to the EPSP in many parts of pyramidal cell dendrites. The nature of the dendritic depolarizing events that control bidirectional plasticity is of central importance to understanding neural function. There are several candidates, including backpropagating action potentials, but also dendritic Ca(2+) spikes, the AMPA receptor-mediated EPSP, and NMDA receptor-mediated EPSPs or spikes. These often appear to be more important than the Na(+) spike in providing the depolarization necessary for plasticity. We thus feel that it is premature to accept STDP-like processes as the major determinant of LTP/LTD.
A post-burst after depolarization is mediated by group i metabotropic glutamate receptor-dependent upregulation of Ca(v)2.3 R-type calcium channels in CA1 pyramidal neurons.PLoS biology 2010
J. Park, S. Remy, J. Varela, D. C. Cooper, S. Chung, H. Kang, J. Lee, and N. Spruston PLoS biology, 8:e1000534 (2010)
Activation of group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (subtypes mGluR1 and mGluR5) regulates neural activity in a variety of ways. In CA1 pyramidal neurons, activation of group I mGluRs eliminates the post-burst afterhyperpolarization (AHP) and produces an afterdepolarization (ADP) in its place. Here we show that upregulation of Ca(v)2.3 R-type calcium channels is responsible for a component of the ADP lasting several hundred milliseconds. This medium-duration ADP is rapidly and reversibly induced by activation of mGluR5 and requires activation of phospholipase C (PLC) and release of calcium from internal stores. Effects of mGluR activation on subthreshold membrane potential changes are negligible but are large following action potential firing. Furthermore, the medium ADP exhibits a biphasic activity dependence consisting of short-term facilitation and longer-term inhibition. These findings suggest that mGluRs may dramatically alter the firing of CA1 pyramidal neurons via a complex, activity-dependent modulation of Ca(v)2.3 R-type channels that are activated during spiking at physiologically relevant rates and patterns.
Synaptic depolarization is more effective than back-propagating action potentials during induction of associative long-term potentiation in hippocampal pyramidal neurons.The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2009
J. Hardie, and N. Spruston The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 29:3233-41 (2009)
Long-term potentiation (LTP) requires postsynaptic depolarization that can result from EPSPs paired with action potentials or larger EPSPs that trigger dendritic spikes. We explored the relative contribution of these sources of depolarization to LTP induction during synaptically driven action potential firing in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. Pairing of a weak test input with a strong input resulted in large LTP (approximately 75% increase) when the weak and strong inputs were both located in the apical dendrites. This form of LTP did not require somatic action potentials. When the strong input was located in the basal dendrites, the resulting LTP was smaller (< or =25% increase). Pairing the test input with somatically evoked action potentials mimicked this form of LTP. Thus, back-propagating action potentials may contribute to modest LTP, but local synaptic depolarization and/or dendritic spikes mediate a stronger form of LTP that requires spatial proximity of the associated synaptic inputs.
A state-mutating genetic algorithm to design ion-channel models.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2009
V. Menon, N. Spruston, and W. L. Kath Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106:16829-34 (2009)
Realistic computational models of single neurons require component ion channels that reproduce experimental findings. Here, a topology-mutating genetic algorithm that searches for the best state diagram and transition-rate parameters to model macroscopic ion-channel behavior is described. Important features of the algorithm include a topology-altering strategy, automatic satisfaction of equilibrium constraints (microscopic reversibility), and multiple-protocol fitting using sequential goal programming rather than explicit weighting. Application of this genetic algorithm to design a sodium-channel model exhibiting both fast and prolonged inactivation yields a six-state model that produces realistic activity-dependent attenuation of action-potential backpropagation in current-clamp simulations of a CA1 pyramidal neuron.
Competing models have been proposed to explain how neurons integrate the thousands of inputs distributed throughout their dendritic trees. In a simple global integration model, inputs from all locations sum in the axon. In a two-stage integration model, inputs contribute directly to dendritic spikes, and outputs from multiple branches sum in the axon. These two models yield opposite predictions of how synapses at different dendritic locations should be scaled if they are to contribute equally to neuronal output. We used serial-section electron microscopy to reconstruct individual apical oblique dendritic branches of CA1 pyramidal neurons and observe a synapse distribution consistent with the two-stage integration model. Computational modeling suggests that the observed synapse distribution enhances the contribution of each dendritic branch to neuronal output.